News from the End of Life

Accounts receivable reach lowest level in 5 years

The 2004 financial and operational survey conducted each year by the American Association for Homecare (AAHomecare) shows that accounts receivable days outstanding averaged 74 days — the lowest reported in more than five years.

"This report is the leading industry benchmark for the financial and operational management of home care providers," says Kay Cox, president and CEO of AAHomecare. "It provides an opportunity for our diverse membership to see how they measure up against industry averages with companies of similar size and market segment. The comparative information in this survey is an essential tool for management teams within the home care industry."

Key findings in this year’s survey include:

2005 Medicare oxygen reimbursement rate cuts: As of December 2003, only 35% of firms indicated that they had developed plans for addressing the Medicare oxygen reimbursement cuts. Another 36% of responding firms stated that they had "sort of" developed a plan, while 29% of respondents had not developed a definite plan.

Hospital ownership: Hospitals owned 28% of firms in 2003. In past surveys, the proportion of hospital ownership has ranged anywhere from 25% to 35%, putting this year’s results at the lower end of the range.

Accounts receivable: In 2003, overall accounts receivable days outstanding averaged 74 days — the lowest reported in more than five years. The percentage of receivables of more than 120 days remained high, at 25%.

Acquisition revenue impact: The 11% of participating companies that reported making an acquisition had an overall growth rate of 17% (higher than the industry average of 10%). But their average growth rate for continuing business remained at 9%, closer to the industry average.

The entire study can be purchased by visiting the AAHomecare web site (www.aahomecare.org) or by calling Nick Burton at (703) 535-1882. The cost is $250 for AAHomecare members, $500 for nonmembers.

Safety group offers fall prevention resources

The Safety Institute of Premier Inc. has launched a publicly accessible, web-based clearinghouse of resources and tools for fall prevention to define and measure falls, identify risks, and target prevention strategies among patients and residents. The resources include: risk factor identification and evidence-based interventions; sample prevention programs with policies and procedures; tools for risk assessment, fall rate calculations, targeted interventions, and patient monitoring guidance; definitions, consensus standards, classifications from national organizations, and annotated references; and education and training programs.

These web resources are part of the institute’s web site on patient, worker, and environmental safety, which includes downloadable tools, an on-line safety store, resources, and an electronic newsletter. The information is available free of charge at www.premierinc.com/safety. Click on "fall prevention module" or the Worker safety icon for back injury and fall prevention resources.

Stiff penalties for violating HIPAA privacy rules

A federal judge has delivered a message that violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rules will be met with severe penalties. In sentencing former cancer treatment center technician Richard W. Gibson, of SeaTac, WA, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez added four months to the 12-month plea-bargained sentence agreed to by prosecutors. Martinez sentenced Gibson to 16 months in prison and charged him with at least $15,000 in restitution.

Gibson was the first person convicted of a breach of the privacy portion of HIPAA. He admitted that he used a patient’s personal information to get four credit cards on which he charged more than $9,000.

Free help with HIPAA security rule

Three white papers on Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) risk analysis and employer issues related to security implementation are available from the Reston, VA-based Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange (WEDI). The risk analysis white paper outlines different approaches that home care agencies can take to assess their potential risks and vulnerabilities of confidential patient information. The employer white paper discusses the role of the employer with respect to employee health information, employer relationships to insurance companies, and employee-sponsored ERISA plans.

To find these and other WEDI publications related to HIPAA privacy, security, and transaction code set requirements, go to www.wedi.org, choose SNIP (which stands for Strategic National Implementation Process) on the left navigational bar, then choose SNIP work products.

Home health payments to climb 2.3% in 2005

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that the Medicare payment rates for home health agencies will increase by 2.3% in 2005. CMS says the increase would bring an additional $250 million in payments to home health agencies next year. The 2.3% update reflects a reduction of .8% for calendar year 2005, as mandated by the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. "As home health continues to play a greater role in caring for America’s seniors, the payment increases for home health agencies are critical to our providers," says Kay Cox, president and CEO of the American Association for Homecare.